While researching marketing and self-promotion, I saw a novel idea about how to deal with newsletters and comments to and from adoring fans (who dey?), which is to give your protagonist their own email account.
Sounds weird, but I’ve already got a Gmail account in my discarded pen name of Augustus Devilheart, to take messages, newsletters and subscription updates from anyone to do with writing and publishing. Google being Google, this led to the strange situation where I received a message from them, asking “Paul Whybrow do you know Augustus Devilheart?”
Not content with haunting myself in this way, I’m waiting to hear from my main character Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle—perhaps asking me why I haven’t begun writing his latest investigation—I left him in a coma at the end of Book 5 The Dead Need Nobody, completed at the end of 2018.
While writing my books, I’ve had my eye on creating a tourist trail based on the locations of my Cornish stories, though it’s hard to think of merchandising opportunities…mugs, calendars, tea towels? Having an email address might make people think my literary hero is a living person.
It’s weird to think that readers might one-day email Neil Kettle, but who knows?
Have any of you made your protagonist real in some way?
As I emerge from reclusiveness, to share myself and my crime novels online, it occurred to me that part of my self-promotion campaign should include personal appearances.
From reading how debut authors achieved success, one of the best ways of getting anywhere is attending literary festivals and residential training courses. It’s not as if writers, editors, literary agents and publishers wander around looking like their job or wear helpful placards hanging from their neck.
The second question commonly asked, after learning a stranger’s name, is: “What do you do?” I’ve long referred to myself as a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve done more than any other job. It’s how I’ve thought of myself, even when working in a factory, as a dispatch rider, teacher and librarian.
After being a hermit in a hovel for ten years, I’m pondering on how to be a public performer. I’m a long way from being shy—and the world of books is genteel—but how do I infiltrate it? Maybe my ambition is showing on my face, somehow, for three unexpected incidents yesterday set my brain whirring.
Firstly, I bumped into an old lover. She lives locally and though we don’t socialise, we’ve chatted amicably enough on the street. Back in 2013, when I mentioned to her that I was returning to creative writing full-time, she was dismissive, saying I’d never make money at it—which I already knew would be hard. Puzzled by her negativity, I later recalled she’d written a memoir that she couldn’t find a publisher for. This time, when she asked about my writing, she was joyful and encouraging that I’m going to begin self-publishing my Cornish Detective series this summer. A pat on the back beats a kick up the arse, so I felt buoyed up.
I wandered into the library. The assistants know I’m a writer and have been helpful offering advice about Cornwall Libraries policy on buying books by local authors. I’ve shared some of my experiences about querying agents, editing, blogging and putting myself out there on social media. The librarian smiled at the requested titles I’d come in to collect, which were three books in the ‘For Dummies’ series about Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads and Twitter. Although I’ve used social media for twenty years, there’s a big difference between being a casual surfer and using it to run a business. She asked if I’d be interested in talking to their readers’ group, which meets once a fortnight to discuss a set book. Sure, said I, panicking about how to describe being a writer without sounding like a merchant of doom!
Wondering if my status as a writer could grow from grassroots, I went to shop for food at the Co-Op supermarket. At the till was an employee I’ve talked to about writing. When writing my last novel, which features thieves who use a bulldozer to steal the ATM from the foyer of that very supermarket, I’d spent time eyeballing the security cameras and monitor screen hanging from the ceiling as a deterrent. The assistant looked at me suspiciously, as if I was about to rob the place, so I explained why I was being nosy.
Since then, we’ve chatted about writing and publishing, as she totalled my bill at the till. I said I was about to self-publish the first two novels, whereupon, she asked for my profile name on Facebook, offering to promote my crime series via several book groups she runs. I was very surprised. I’m hopeless at asking for help, preferring to assist others, so receiving three boosts to my efforts inside an hour gladdened my heart.
I’d better get on with things. People think I’m a writer, even I feel like I’m a bumbling impostor at times.
How do you handle being a writer with your family, friends and the public?
In rejigging my online presence, via a blog, website and various social media accounts, I’ve had to describe myself in profiles of different lengths.
As with anything to do with writing, self-publishing and self-promotion little words can carry mighty weight. From the story itself to the title, to tags chosen to describe the plot and onto an author’s biography, there are writing experts who’ll coach you on what to use and what to avoid saying.
I freely admit that I’m nosy about finding out details about a creative person’s life. The internet could have been invented for me: I’ll read the Wikipedia pages for all of the stars in a film that’s on television, before moving to the director, cameraman and sound recordist. Contemplating the idea that some reader will be doing that with my bio is disconcerting.
I’ve often wondered how relevant an author’s upbringing and career history are to their books. I see the significance if their parents are writers, as with Kingsley and Martin Amis, James Lee Burke and Alafair Burke, Stephen King and Joe Hill and Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker. But, what difference does it make if a writer’s parents were aristocrats or servants? My father was a noted industrial photographer, so I grew up in a house full of cameras and photographs, but did that make me more observant? Would I write differently if Dad was a plumber?
What about an author’s work history? I’ve done something like 50 different jobs, including career ladder professions, wage slave factory worker, manual labourer and charity volunteer on nature projects, street art, community centre and counselling. Such variety has given me an appreciation of what people do to earn a crust, more so than if I’d been a truck driver for 40 years.
How about a writer’s romantic liaisons and marriages—always of keen interest to prurient readers—was the person who wrote the book promiscuous or a prude? A lot of authors’ bios on the back flap of their novel end with something like ‘She lives in Brighton with her husband, two children and three cats.’
That should be enough, surely?
One factor that readers apparently consider, is how experienced or knowledgeable is the author to write about their subject? In my writing genre of Crime, there are some noted writers who were policemen, profilers, lawyers, probation officers or criminals. Would I sell more books, if I confessed to burying my first two wives under the patio? I’m joking!
I posted my bio on this blog. My profile is similar on my Cornish Detective website and social media sites
I think it’s important to open up and let readers into your life and way of thinking if you’re going to foster loyalty to your books. Along those lines, I’ve written articles explaining why I wrote that particular Cornish Detective story, which will be open to readers leaving comments on my website. In the internet age, we all think we deserve to know about someone’s life. How many reclusive writers manage to stay unknown these days?
I’m happy to interact with people that way, and further down the road, if I have any sales success, there may be public appearances and book signings. I would never want the level of recognition which makes authors household names, with fandom that intrudes, as with J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and Stephen King.
Some authors adopt a whimsical approach to their bios:
“Lemony Snicket has ridden the rails, gotten off track, and lost his train of thought. His investigative research has been collected and published in books, including those in A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions.”
“Eric Carle invented writing, the airplane, and the internet. He was also the first person to reach the North Pole. He has flown to Mars and back in one day, and was enthusiastically greeted by the Martians. “Very strange beings,” he reported on his return. He has written one thousand highly regarded books; a team of experts is presently attempting to grasp their meaning. “It might take a century,” said the chief expert. Carle is also a great teller of stories — but not all of them are true, for instance those in this book.”
“Laurelin Paige is the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Fixed Trilogy. She’s a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International though she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio. You can connect with Laurelin on Facebook at facebook.com/LaurelinPaige or on twitter @laurelinpaige. You can also visit her website, laurelinpaige.com, to sign up for emails about new releases and a chance to win a $100 Amazon Gift Certificate in a monthly drawing.”
How do you feel about putting yourself out there as a writing personality?
Is anything from your past going to help you sell books?
Feeling clueless about what to say? Reedsy has a free author bio template: